Race Recap and Review: The San Francisco Marathon

logo There are some events you don’t really want to deal with since they’re so far in the future. You put it off, thinking it’s a long time from now, and you’ll worry about it when you get there. However, as time progresses forward, you realize the event comes much faster than you expected and hits you so hard you don’t have much time to react.

(Lack of) Preparation

The San Francisco Marathon was one of those events. Aside from the normal half marathon training, I did absolutely zero preparation for this marathon. What was an impulse registration after hearing the news in Boston two months ago came to bite me in my unprepared ass very quickly. I was much more focused on the half marathons in Orange County, San Diego, and the upcoming one in Seattle. Despite all this, I think I did pretty great on a totally unprepared marathon.

Why do San Francisco though? Well, This specific race was my very first half marathon two years ago, and like the first of everything, you tend to remember everything in detail and have some type of association with it. My first medal, my first PR, my first running expo, etc. etc. was held here. Plus, I really enjoy the city, from its waterfront to massive park to eccentric districts. This course runs through all of that, and I absolutely love this course.

Expo

Having finished an exhilarating week at WWDC, Michael and I headed over to the Concourse Exhibition Center several blocks over to the SF Marathon Expo. The layout this year was a little different compared to previous years, and it looked like they moved everything from one entrance to another. A good decision, since everything looked incredibly spaced out. I don’t know if this was because I went on a Friday or because of the larger expo floor.

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The no-nonsense swag.

With this being my third year running the San Francisco Marathon, I also was eligible for and joined the 52 Club. What is the 52 Club? It’s a special loyalty program where if you run a half in one year, the other half the next year, and then the full the year after that, you join the 52 Club, which is two halves and a full (13+13+26). The 52 Club merits you a sweater, which was the gray one in the picture to the upper right.

Honestly, I preferred the Half-It-All medal more, and it required less work, but the fact that I was able to do this is itself a big accomplishment.

One of the vendors included the Inaugural Berkeley Half Marathon, taking place in November. Hmm…

Race Weekend

After embarking back south to San Jose, Erica flew up to SJC that evening. The next day, Michael, Erica, and I trekked back up to San Francisco. We first stopped by Ike’s in Redwood City, the same Ike’s I went to two months ago after running Rock n’ Roll in SF. This time, it was the carb-up, not the post-race feast.

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Afterwards, we met up with David, Amy, Patrick, and Alex from SF to go go-karting at Go Kart Racing near Burlingame and SFO. The adrenaline rush from go karting was definitely great and got rid of a lot of the stress I was feeling from knowing I was running a marathon the next day. Taking a tiny kart and zipping around tight corners was exhilarating, but it turns out I’ve got some more work to do if I want to race in go karts.

Worn out from the lack of power steering in these little karts, we then headed to Tpumps in San Mateo to sample their boba and tea. As a tech nerd, it was really cool how I didn’t have to take out my wallet or cell phone at all to pay. I simply checked in on Square Wallet, let the cashier know I was paying by Square Wallet and provided my Fivestars phone number for punchcards and that was it! No scanning, no swiping, nothing. The tea itself was very good too, since they let you mix and match flavors together to get weird combinations like Coconut Passion Fruit Tea with Mango Exploding Boba. Yep.

We then headed up north into the City and met up with Erica’s old roommate and her boyfriend, Joce and JP. Michael dropped us off at the Moscone Center (which had all WWDC markings removed posthaste), and headed to Zero Zero for pizza, salads, and catching up. Pizza and ice cream definitely is a great place to carb up, and that’s exactly what I did.

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Vanilla soft serve with Olive Oil and Sea Salt. It’s surprisingly very good.

After what felt like a day of nonstop eating, we stayed at Shirley’s place a half mile from the start line and fell asleep at 11ish.

Race Day

At around 5am, I got up, dressed, and headed east to the Embarcadero. With the recent events in Boston, the SF Marathon organizers decided to completely seal off the start/finish line areas and required a bag check at all points of entry. Fair enough, all I had was my phone. Since this race was usually held in late-July, 5am in San Francisco usually means it’s still dark. However, this year I managed to get some amazing sunrise photos.

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The start/finish line are only about a quarter mile from each other, which was pretty crazy. Overall, my displacement for the race would be about a quarter mile after traversing the entire city.

The race started on time at 5:30am, and I was off in Wave 6 at 6:12am!

The Course

I knew that in order to survive this marathon, I had to run slow, slower than all my half marathons paces. This was a city notorious for its hills, where the bridge is uphill both ways, and the latter half brings nothing but steep downhills.

The description I have of the course divides into each region of SF.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and Crissy Field

Mile 1: 8:58 / mile
Mile 2: 9:01 / mile
Mile 3: 9:17 / mile
Mile 4: 9:28 / mile

This was probably the only part of the course that was flat. With the smell of Boudin Sourdough bread all over Fisherman’s Wharf in the second mile, it was an interesting site to see Fisherman’s Wharf completely quiet and empty when its normally filled with tourists.

After passing Ghirardelli Square (the start/finish lines of the US Half and Rock n’ Roll), the course makes a straightaway on Crissy Field. The other times I’ve ran this course on here, the Bridge was completely shrouded in fog. This time, it was nice and sunny. With the sun just over the East Bay hills, the weather was heating up.

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This part of the race was very flat, and I focused on primarily keeping a steady sub-10 minute pace.

Golden Gate Bridge

Mile 5: 9:20 / mile

At mile 5, there’s a really steep climb that brings you from sea level to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mile 6: 9:10 / mile
Mile 7: 9:48 / mile
Mile 8: 9:58 / mile
Mile 9: 10:01 / mile
Mile 10: 9:38 /  mile

Mile 6-10 was through the Golden Gate Bridge. The SF Marathon has one huge selling point in that it is the only race ever to let you run on the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge. Very cool, and I would definitely do the first half again just to run on the bridge once more.

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The course then makes a brief stop at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point in Marin County before heading back to the City over the bridge.

The Presidio

Mile 11: 9:59 / mile

After exiting the bridge, the course follows Lincoln Blvd on a steep downhill into the Richmond District for a mile. At this point, you get a very good view of the Outer Richmond and the Pacific Ocean, parts of SF that are not as photogenic. I focused on making sure I didn’t run as fast as I wanted to on this downhill, since there was more of the race to go.

Richmond District

Mile 12: 10:04 / mile
Mile 13: 10:21 / mile

This part was a complete blur, what with Richmond being one of the city suburbs of SF. It was, however, a steady uphill slope, and caught me by surprise last year. Not this time! I kept a steady pace this time as the course ran through Richmond into Golden Gate Park.

Golden Gate Park (The False Finishes)

First Half Marathoners were veered off to finish while I went the other way through a secluded part of Golden Gate Park. Without all the half marathoners running at their faster pace, I was able to not feel as pressured to keep pace with a half marathoner. I could hear the music and announcer cheering on the first half finishers.

At this point, the course also became extremely cloudy, dare I say misty. Luckily, I wore tights and long sleeves, and I knew that my overdressing in the first half would pay off at this part of the course.

Mile 13.5 or so, the second half marathoners started, and I felt like I was keeping pace with runners who were having just started running their half marathon.

Mile 14: 9:45 / mile
Mile 15: 9:50 / mile

Golden Gate Park is a really great place to run. It’s secluded from traffic noise, and its a quiet and peaceful place to just be surrounded in your own thoughts. After a while, knowing that your finish line is on the other side of the city and you’re still running around in the labyrinth of a park can get you pretty impatient.

Mile 16: 10:17 / mile

At mile 16, I finally heard sounds of music again and it turns out it was the first half finish again. Watching first halfers finish while knowing you still have roughly 10 miles to go was an odd experience, since I knew I’d be seeing that (hopefully) very soon.

Mile 17: 11:04 / mile
Mile 18: 9:29 / mile

My half marathon optimized legs started to give out at mile 17. I guess long distance running was what marathon training was for, and I didn’t do any of it. I stopped, tied my shoes, and decided to take a stroll around the lake. When we exited the lake, the first half finish was in plain sight again, and I decided to pick up the pace.

Here was also where I met Dave, the marathoner who ran 57 marathons so far. Whoa.

Mile 19: 10:36 / mile

The course here became overwhelmingly familiar, as I had run the same course two years ago. I knew that at some point I’d exit the park, but it did feel like forever. I also met the runner dressed in a superhero costume calling himself “Marathon Man.”

Haight-Ashbury

Mile 20: 11:55 / mile
Mile 21: 11:46 / mile

Hooray! It was a big relief to exit the park and finally get to the Haight. The Marathon route follows Haight all the way to the Mission District, and this part of the course is a steep downhill. Seeing as how my legs were at this point screaming at me to stop running and just be done with it already, I took my time and ran/walked this portion.

Mission District

Mile 22: 10:00 / mile

Crossing Market St meant going into the Mission, the once-impoverished district now overran by hipsters. It certainly didn’t feel like it, and with only 5 miles or so to go, the finish line never felt so far away. The skies cleared up and it was hot. So hot I rolled up my sleeves and contemplated shedding some parts of my running gear.

I pushed through, past the notorious 16th/Mission BART station and into the gentrifying parts of SF. A generous resident was passing out water bottles, and I grabbed one and held onto it the rest of the race.

Portero Hill/Dogpatch

Mile 23: 12:03 / mile
Mile 24: 12:18 / mile
Mile 25: 11:43 / mile

Here, there was one final uphill before heading back to the Bay. I don’t really remember much about this part, only that seeing AT&T Park in the distance was possibly one of the most relieving feelings I’ve ever had.

SoMa/Embarcadero

Mile 26: 12:11 / mile

Passing AT&T Park, I struggled to run and make the final dash to the finish line. I knew that once I passed the Bay Bridge I’d only be 0.22 miles away from the finish line. It was also at the Bay Bridge where Erica was waiting for me, ringing her cowbell, and she took this photo here:

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I look like I’m struggling to finish.

The Finish! (26.2 miles)

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I finished in 04:34:54 or 10:30 / mile. About five minutes slower than my marathon PR, but I wasn’t intending on hitting a personal record in this race. I’ve come to realize marathons are just not my thing, and I should stick to the halves. There’s simply too much training required to maintain a good pace for the marathon, something I don’t feel like I can commit that much of my time to.

Post-Race Meal

Nike reports that I burned about 4,000 calories in the marathon, so it was time to refuel myself back up! After showering and taking a quick nap, Erica and I met with Michael and Patrick and ate brunch at Town’s End on Townsend and the Embarcadero. With this restaurant being so close to the finish line, there were a lot of sweaty runners wearing their medals while stuffing themselves with waffles, pancakes, and blueberry muffins.

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I ordered buttermilk pancakes with sausages and eggs, and then ate half of Erica’s Eggs Benedict and potato pancakes. Lots of food!

We then headed back to Patrick’s place and napped for the rest of the afternoon. I kept my legs elevated to keep blood flowing around my body, and since walking was a complete pain. We then played a game of Pandemic before heading back to the South Bay and sending Erica back home to LA.

Overall, it was a great weekend, a great race, but could’ve been better preparation. While I am glad I was able to finish a marathon without any injuries and without taxing my body too heavily, I’m pretty sure working on improving my marathon pace is something that takes up a lot more time than I am willing to commit, and I will be sticking with improving half marathon times. The course itself was beautiful, and I really enjoy running around in San Francisco. Perhaps next year I will do one of the halves instead (and possibly get the Half-It-All again in 2015).

Thank you to Erica for supporting me all weekend, to Michael for driving us up to SF and attending the expo, to Shirley for letting us stay at her place during race day, to Alex, David, Amy, and Patrick for making sure race day logistics all went smoothly, and to the SF Marathon organizers for once again setting up a phenomenal race.

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